Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Falling Water

I love beautifully designed homes. The stacks of design and interior magazines leaning against various walls in our own dwelling is testament to this. There’s nothing I like more than gazing at ingenious storage, Zen gardens in the heart of Hackney and kitchen islands that I’d gladly be marooned on. So on our recent sojourn to Pittsburgh, where the Sherpa and I stayed with very dear friends I was overjoyed that we were going to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural marvel Falling Water. Designed in 1935 for Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr., a wealthy businessman this house in southwestern Pennsylvania was intended as a place for the family to escape to on weekends.

The 50 mile drive southeast of Pittsburgh took us far away from the industrial browns and grays of the city to rural landscapes dotted with farms, open fields, towering grain bins and run down houses. The snow that initially fell with a soft waltz like rhythm soon took on a more aggressive tango-esque stance. After living in London where snowfall is often a one day affair that leaves everything grey and slushy rather than pristine and white I loved the otherwise inclement weather conditions.

We reached Falling Water after two and a half hours on the road close to lunch time. One can only access the house through a guided tour and ours wasn’t scheduled to start for another 45 minutes. So we sat down for a meal at The Falling Water CafĂ© and then moseyed off to the gift shop and browsed through overpriced tie pins and wind chimes all inspired by the man’s work.

Our tour guide was a somewhat theatrical woman. I say somewhat because she seemed to be in the process of finding her thespian voice. Throughout the tour she paused at the most inopportune of places, would look at the group with wide eyes and then suddenly burst out with a torrent of information at a distinctly higher pitch. The theatrics were futile for the house is where all the drama lies.
Built partly over a waterfall (hence the name) Wright’s organically designed private residence is modern without being stark and cold. The house is connected in many ways to the land it’s built on from the water falls that run beneath it to the fireplace and hearth made of boulders found on site. The wavy patterned stone floors are waxed giving the impression of rocks protruding from a rippling brook. Cantilevered terraces (some larger than the rooms they adjoin) bring the outside within giving the illusion of great space and flooding the house with natural light and sound.
Not only has this habitat been designed with a great eye for detail (the distance between the natural vertical stains of the white oak cupboards are the same as that between the vertical lines of the grilled terrace doors) but each and every piece of furniture and art that fills the rooms of the house have been chosen carefully. Except for the kitchen (chosen by Mrs. Kauffman), an homage to the plastic and melamine mania of the time nothing else in the house has aged. There is nothing that is gimmicky or faddish, something we can thank Wright for, for he culled most of the furnishings and accessories himself. From the gorgeous Tiffany lamps to the original Picasso’s to the jewel like cushions that scatter the seating areas each piece has been lovingly chosen. There’s a global feel to the house which doesn’t leave one feeling like they’re walking through a museum exhibit entitled ‘Me and my travels through the world. Everything fits beautifully and quietly in to its chosen space and nothing shouts out.
On the hillside above the main house the garage, servants' quarters, and guest bedroom maintain the same look and feel of the main house. I loved the dark, quiet passage to the extension where a Japanese armoire and Diego Riviera painting shared space with a 17th century bust from an Indian temple.
As we left the house to take pictures outside (no photography allowed within) I couldn’t help but wonder how I would have felt, having someone else design and decorate my home. Falling Water is without a doubt beautiful and welcoming. But how much of it felt like home to Mrs. Kauffman? How much of it felt like hers?


Veena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veena said...

Well, I told you to go there, didn't I? Does Sherpa man still think that the house can be only enjoyed by architects?! But anyway, if you had really listened to me, you might have remembered that in the 8.30 AM 2-hour tour, they do allow photographs :) Did you guys also go to Kentuck Nob? Lesser known Wright but another superb house on top of this hill. Owned by some British Lord or something but they do open it for viewing most of the year.

Wright's homes are never really meant to be for anyone else other than himself. The playroom in his home and studio in Oak Park, IL being the only exception.

Falstaff said...

"Dear Kaufmann,

Are you a brave man?
I’m back from Bear Run, yes, but the visit
to the waterfall in the woods stays with me.

The view is, you have said, your chief concern.
Of course. The panorama is sublime.
In spring, the falls spit foam in the sun’s eye;
they throw off diamonds, milk, opaline fire
before they drop away.
Winter sculpts the water’s frozen fall,
a black marble mirror . . .

And so forth. Views are exhilarating,
especially when they’re fortified in stone.
Anyone can heap together a tower,
Kaufmann, or live in one. I don’t advise it:
stone eminence breeds a basilisk gaze.
To live with things, you have to listen to them.

At Bear Run I listened. How shall I tell
you what I heard? A poet might call it music,
if one sole note repeated makes a tune.
At first the monotony of water splashing
half-hypnotized me. Limp as a mesmerist’s geek,
I listened and despaired. From this onrush,
unceasing, undifferentiated,
what Form could ever struggle into being?

I went on listening, until the Sameness lifted,
as the heavy gold curtain at the opera
scrolls slowly upward after the overture.
It came at the end, beside the stream, to chaos,
the brutal cry of beautiful un-making.
Each staccato instant, change hammered change—
as in the falling water, so in the furious
currents occulted beneath my traitor skin.

The house I want to build asks daring—
not of me, Kaufmann, but of you.
I shall cantilever concrete slabs
over falls and stream, layered like birthday cake.
My job’s a conjuror’s trick, mere cunning.
The question, Kaufmann, is: have you the courage
not simply to look at the waterfalls, but to live with them?

Yours most sincerely,

F. Lloyd Wright"

- Ann Lauinger, 'Fallingwater' from Persuasions of Fall (winner of the 2003 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry)


Shyam said...

I WISH you had taken photos!!!

Now I'll have to go all the way there to see it for myself...


Hannah said...

I wonder who "the Sherpa" is in your post. I am a tour guide at Frank Lloyd Wright's home, Taliesin, in Spring Green Wisconsin (and hopefully a less theatrical one than your guide at Fallingwater). The Taliesin Estate covers 600 acres of rolling hills, presided over for the last 10 years by a fabulous calico cat named...Sherpa, because she runs ahead of all the tours and positions herself majestically at the just-right-perfect spots for photos.

Several years ago I had the pleasure of spending the day escorting a group of Japanese architects around the estate. They were over, under, around and through every single nook and cranny of every single wing of every single building, excitedly snapping photos and talking with one another in Japanese (I had a Japanese apprentice with me, to translate, but we couldn't keep up).

Several months later tha architects graciously sent us a copy of the issue of their architectural journal containing details of their visit to Taliesin, with pages and pages of text (in Japanese) and lots of wonderful photos.

But what do you think they chose for the cover photo?

Sherpa, almost filling the frame, with the Taliesin Hill Crown in the background.

Your Sherpa is in fine company.

alpha said...

well done. liked the description and had you listened to Veena, we'd have got a nice photo of the four of us cuddling on the bed.

Our guide is in serious need of entertainment in her life. She needs a cat. We should have left Sherpa behind.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Veena - No we didn't do Kentuck Nob. And wrt the 8:30am tour please, waking up at 5:00 or 6:00 am on holiday is a cardinal sin!

Falstaff - Lovely poem. Thank you.

Shyam - Will send some across! But really, you should visit this place.

Hannah - What a lovely story! The Sherpa in my post is my husband.

Alpha - Adi paavi? Why my purushan?? Feeling better now?

Anonymous said...

Been reading your blog for a while now.

Initially it was funny, but now there seems to be too much effort in the writing. Effort to be funny, to seem self-deprecating.

Just write for the fun of it, to express a viewpoint, to say what you want to say.

Or Maybe you already are doing only that. :)

Alpha said...

"please, waking up at 5:00 or 6:00 am on holiday is a cardinal sin!"

commiting cardinal sin everyday, are we?

feeling like a piece of shit still..i need to give myself away for a full body repair. hope u are enjoying dallas and the family. i know you are.

Akira said...

Photos pl. (?)

Rachna said...

Put up a pic, will you?